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What Every Blogger Should be Aware of Before Writing List Posts


It seems like list posts are all the rage on the web lately. Although providing lists have become one of the most popular way to convey a message through a post, there are problems that are often ignored by most bloggers. The saying “There is a good and a bad side to everything” holds true in regards to these kind of posts as well. Posts that are numbered or have the central idea as a list have been one of the most tried out methods to gain social media traffic and back links, and it has without doubt seen huge success. So how exactly writing a post in a way that brings in traffic and back links can hurt over time? That’s exactly what we will discuss in this post.

Before we get to the details why list post sometimes can pose a threat rather than support, I would like quote Darren Rowse from Problogger,

“There is obviously a pretty good case for using lists in your blog writing. Of course you can use them too much – sometimes a topic calls for something a little more meaty and in depth than a list – but overall I’d recommend that using lists on your blog as part of your writing mix is an worthwhile strategy.”

I just wanted to point out the bold parts which sort of points out that list post might not be the best possible option to provide in depth information.

Let’s go ahead and explore some of the reasons on why list posts aren’t always the hidden gem.

You Forfeit the Chance to Serve Dessert
When we go to a restaurant and finish up eating our dinner, what’s the next thing the server asks? “Would you like some dessert?” Let’s relate this to writing a list post. A post that is written as a list allows your reader to scan the post without really having them to dive in deeper. It’s a peek into the house rather than a tour, so to speak.

Providing ideas and messages in a list eventually hurts your blog because it allows readers to quick stop by and get going. What would you like to see on your analytics – average time on site 5 minutes or 20 seconds? Of course 5 minutes! It might be great for a quick traffic and sudden exposure but if your goal is long term then list post might not be the solution.

It is similar to a restaurant customer. It’s great having drive through customers but what drives most in terms of sales and profit are the customers that sit in and eat. This gives the restaurant the added bonus to offer other services. A list post is similar to a drive through, it brings in traffic but you won’t be able to serve anything else besides what is required by the reader. It eliminates the need for reader curiosity to look around and see what else is there, since the information they need is summed up in couple points.

Puts You on a Halt as a Writer
Once you become a list writer, it’s hard to get back to writing content deeply. It becomes a luxury and convenience for you that’s hard to pass. As a writer/blogger, I find writing list posts the most easiest way to convey a quick message, please keep in mind I said ” quick message.” If it’s something that needs to be elaborated, I try to stay away from making it a list. A list should be used when you need to quick inform of something. Think of it as a “To Do List” that you create. How do you write your engagements while preparing a to do list? In a way that gives you a quick glance on what needs to be done. It’s the same deal with list posts. A quick glance, not detail oriented.

As a blogger, if you make the habit of writing posts as a list it becomes a habit that is hard to break. The reason is simple- because it is of utmost ease and a rather quick fix when it comes to creating content. Think of an idea, list them in numbers and there you have it, a post within 10 minutes. This is one of the reasons most blogger/writers never rise. Their writing starts taking a toll and eventually their writing skills start to suffer as they become susceptible to the quick fix rather than a detailed and complete fix.

Your Readers Want Food, Not Just the Menu
Your readers want information to satisfy their hunger. Information that is solid and provides enough content for them to analyze and apply. A list post will only tickle their fancy and most probably leave them in dark to find an answer by themselves. For instance, if you are looking for a way to optimize your wordpress blog, what kind of article would you want to read? One that provides a step by step guide or something that is more basic and gives you a quick peek? I would go for the former and so would most of the readers.

I refer list post to a restaurant menu because it gives you an idea of what you might find. A list should be used as a way to generate reader curiosity instead of using it as the main course. If an entire post is a list, it is hard to dive in deep into the content and analyze possible outcomes that you might be trying to convey to your readers.

Makes Your Blog Slippery Not Sticky
Most bloggers get excited because of the sudden influx in traffic generated by a list post that they start creating most of their posts in this manner. This will create a huge barrier between your blog and a large subscriber base. A list post is a perfect example of creating a slippery path for your readers. They come, they scan and they leave. There is no real content or value for the readers, most of the time. List posts are usually a generalization and not a deeper look into the subject and this will for sure hurt your credibility and readership as time passes by.

On the other hand, if you lay off the list post addiction, you will be able to make your readers stick to your blog. A well thought out content, a deeper message, a complete guide is a surefire way to make your readers stick and not slip on your blog. You want a regular passenger on your highway who wants to explore every bit of scene it has to offer and to do this you need to generate curiosity. And curiosity is hard to generate with a list post. List posts are direct and to the point without much explanation about the subject in it.

It’s a Weapon, Use it Wisely
Your weapon can either save you or hurt you. Both outcomes are possible when using a weapon. It will either save you from something or backfire and hurt you instead. Being able to craft a meaningful list post is certainly a worthy weapon in your arsenal, if used when required. I won’t hesitate to say that once in a while I will write a listt post and most of the times it does good on social media sites and in generating visitor attention. But just like any other weapon, a list post if used regularly can hurt your reputation as a writer and blogger.

Bloggers such as Leo and Skellie have mastered the art of list posts. Leo can be constantly found creating lists on his blog zenhabits. But the lists on his posts are an added bonus not the whole package. Make use of lists as a way to bump your idea rather than using it as a tool to convey the central message.
Most people might consider this as a list post as well, but it’s not.

Let’s see what this post would look like if it was a list:

• Won’t give your readers the incentive to look around your blog ( fails to answer why not )
• You stop growing as a writer and puts a halt to your writing skills ( fails to answer how )
• Gives your reader a generalization not the main message ( fails to describe the reason )
• Visitors won’t convert into readers/subscribers ( fails to analyze why not )
• List posts should be done in moderation ( fails to answer why, again )

In this case, the list above serves as a supplement to the post. Sort of Things to Remember rather than the entire chapter. Had it been a list post it would have failed to answer the questions as to why list posts can be a problem.

I am sure most of you love list posts. I am not against it but again, I am not all for it either. Would love to hear your side of argument as well. Please take a moment and share your thoughts and opinion on what you think of list posts.



13 Comments

  1. Jason Drohn Says:

    Very nice post. You are absolutely right - List posts are a weapon in a writer's arsenal. Lists are great for getting through an enormous amount of content in a fairly quick amount of time, but they can be a hindrance as well. Think of them as using bold and underline in copy. Use them too much and they lose their effectiveness. But use them sparingly, and they jump off the page.

  2. Alex Shalman Says:

    I think you make some valid points in this article Ritu. There are certain techniques that I personally use when making lists that can make them be more in depth. I recently started using a second paragraph for every list item (you can do this by pressing ctrl-enter a couple of times in wordpress) and use the second paragraph to give a solution, a reason, or anything else to add more meat.

    This works because the main point of lists is scanning ability and if someone thinks one of your points are very interested, or ridiculous, they'll read closer and see what your points and counterpoints are.

    *Stumbled for good point*

  3. Cecilia Sherrard Says:

    Brings attention to a subject few think about. I use lists to break up the monotony of my blog and writing theme. I see major faults with the example list post you provided as you're right, it doesn't convey the meaning or explanation of the statement. I think list posts are only beneficial if centered briefly inside a post to hit target points or as a complete post; if each bullet point/number has the explanation included...

    If the first one on the list is the most interesting, readers tend to stick around to read the rest of your list. I have a couple on my blog right now including my latest and it's nice to get emails with the subject being one of the numbers on the list...It offers a variety of topics to discuss wrapped in one post.

  4. Jon Phillips Says:

    Good points Ritu! I really like the food/blogging comparison :)
    Some bloggers specialize in lists ('742 ways to market yourself using facebook' anyone?). Lists are awesome if what you want is to make the frontpage on del.icio.us. I much prefer meatier posts and I like to read people's opinions, but I always find myself bookmarking these lists posts.

    List posts: I bookmark
    Meaty posts with great discussion, great writing style: I subscribe to the RSS feed :)

  5. Carole Gold Says:

    Ritu~

    As I am of the "old school" that thinks writing should be just that....writing not list making...and that's exactly what I do on my blog...I am heartened to see someone speak to it. Great job!

  6. Bob Younce at the Writing Journey Says:

    Insightful post, as always Ritu.

    Having said that, I think a list is an invaluable tool - when used correctly. I prefer to do exactly what you did here - provide a list, but give a paragraph or two about each list point.

    Is that because I'm long-winded? Maybe. I don't think it's a particularly revolutionary idea, though. Preachers have been doing "3-point sermons" for centuries.

  7. Keith Johnson Says:

    Great post Ritu! Indeed, we must be mindful of the article we are writing and whether or not we really need to include a "numerical" or "list" approach to the subject. Sometimes, we can also subdivide a post or article into smaller paragraphs, so that we don't have to use the classical list approach. Well done, and many thanks for the great post!

  8. Ritu Says:

    @Jason: " Everything is good in moderation " comes to mind when it comes to list posts as well. It's all about determining the purpose of a post and how we want to convey our message. If it's a short, quick peek into the subject, a list post is great otherwise it might not prove to be as benefecial, both for the reader and the blogger. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this post.

    @Alex: " I recently started using a second paragraph for every list item (you can do this by pressing ctrl-enter a couple of times in wordpress) and use the second paragraph to give a solution, a reason, or anything else to add more meat. " That is an excellent technique. Thanks for sharing and for the stumble.

    @Cecilia: I agree that list posts can be a great way to provide information and share views. My main problem with list posts are the way they are being used lately on blogs. Most of the times they are one sentence which don't really elaborate the subject in hand, making the readers wonder in dark what the blogger really means.

    @Jon: Glad you liked the comparison. Did you subscribe? 😉

    @Carole: Yup! The old school writing simply rocks but then again we can't really hide the modern techniques as well. Got to use them but in moderation.

    @Bob: Like you said list posts are great when used correctly. " Having said that, I think a list is an invaluable tool - when used correctly. I prefer to do exactly what you did here - provide a list, but give a paragraph or two about each list point. " That's it right there :-)

    @Keith: Thanks for stopping by and sharing your views and knowledge. I will be checking in on your blog regularly as you have years worth of knowledge and experience when it comes to writing.

  9. Michael Martine Says:

    I've been ranting against list posts because people are just doing them and they're not even thinking or striving to go beyond the status quo, which is boring. People are just using this as a crutch because they can't be bothered with something more original. Once you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    Great post, Ritu!

  10. Khalid Saleh Says:

    Ritu, you make excellent and valid points. Although lists encourage bad behavior at times, they do work. To some extent it depends on the type of list you are writing. When I wrote 152 of dos and dont's of business blogging, each item was few words. My other popular item, 31 quick tips to understand online conversion had paragraphs under each item.

    When I look at our blog over the last few days, list posts had a lot of traffic and generated comments. In depth posts generate less comments and less traffic. I do think that the comments on non-list posts are more thoughtful most of the time.

    stumbled for great content!

  11. Sonia Simone Says:

    I tend to avoid list posts on my blog, but the posts I've made that have seen vastly more traffic than any others are things like "10 Commandments of social media," "5 editor's secrets to writing like a pro" and "50 things your customer wish you knew." It's kind of spooky. I can see how bloggers get addicted--who doesn't love their stuff being linked and chatted up?

    The last one has been interesting--I think I will use a bunch of the 50 points (maybe all 50, who knows) to riff on new posts, then keep linking them back to the original post. It's a way to draw people into the blog and then give them more to do. I have noticed that traffic from that "50 things" post has been very, very sticky--people go to the greatest hits page and start clicking around. Then again, it took me 3 days to pull together, so it definitely was not a quickie to have something to write that day.

    Unlike Michael, I don't think they're evil :-) But I do agree that they need to be done in moderation. This is a great unpacking of the pitfalls. (I've got to cruise by Leo's joint again and study his technique, thanks for the pointer.)

  12. Goal Setting College Says:

    I understand where Sonia's coming from. Sad to say, I do agree with her that despite list posts has its limitations, these are the same articles that bring in the most traffic to my site as well. I also attest to her point that good well thought out list posts can take quite a while to do thorough research. I used 3 full days too to review close to 2800 posters, 1000 inspirational quotes to come up with my best motivational posters/ thoughtful quotes lists. But the effort's well warranted.

    To balance things off a little, it definitely makes sense to elaborate the thoughts or insights that was hashed in list posts or have a healthy ratio of such articles in your mix. Pretty much like what Skellie and Leo are doing. I'm still learning, too!

    Cheers,
    Ellesse

  13. Kari Rippetoe Says:

    I agree with Bob that there's definitely a correct way to do a list post; however, they can be short and meaty/funny/clever/informative if done right (think the grandfather of all lists - Letterman's Top Ten List. I would think that takes some writing chops and a brain cell or two to come up with).

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